(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Children's Library | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "Daniel Webster and the spoils system;"

731 




JK 731 
.B33 
Copy 1 



DANIEL WEBSTER 



AND 



THE SPOILS SYSTEM 



AN EXTRACT 



FROM SENATOR BAYARD S ORATION AT DARTMOUTH 
COLLEGE, JUNE, 1 882 



I 



NEW YORK 

PUBLISHED FOR THE 

CIVIL-SERVICE REFORM ASSOCIATION 

BV 

G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS 
1882 



Press of 

G. P. Putnam's Sons 

New York 






TVcv^» ^1>0 r ^-LTV » ^3JU ?JLCLjClUUft- 



PUBLICATIONS OF THE CIVIL-SERVICE REFORM 

ASSOCIATION 



DANIEL WEBSTER AND THE SPOILS 

SYSTEM 

The need for Webster and men of his type exists to-day, and 
ever will exist. Questions involving a restraint upon the exercise 
of governmental power are before us to-day, and many threaten 
danger to our prosperity, and some, the very existence of our form 
of government. " Great empire and little minds go ill together," 
said Lord Bacon, and assuredly we do possess a " great empire " 
which we see too often ruled by " little minds." A system has 
grown up gradually, yet almost imperceptibly, in our government, 
which has reached a point of growth and power that enables it to 
overthrow the main objects for which our Constitution and laws 
were established, and to substitute a system which enables men 
once vested with official power, to use that power as a stepping- 
stone for its own perpetuation and advancement, regardless of all 
changes in the condition of popular sentiment. 

This is commonly known as the "spoils system," and rests upon 
the dogma that the offices of a government are instituted for the 
emolument and advantage of the official and the political party 
to which he belongs, and not for the public use and benefit. With 
the growth of the country and development of its resources, the 
expansion of the official corps has naturally followed, until to-day 
the Civil-Service roll of the Federal Government contains over 
one hundred thousand names, and directly and indirectly con- 
nected with and dependent upon them and the execution of their 
powers, it may be safely estimated there are five times as many 
more. Under a system which disregards the fact that public ser- 
vice is the great end of office-holding, and which substitutes the 
personal interests of the incumbent for that of the public, indi- 
vidual interests have organized-ander the name and forms of polit- 
ical parties, and a compact and drilled machine has been brought 
into existence, which, under the rules of party discipline, has be- 
come a " power behind the throne greater than the throne itself": 
and, unknown to our Constitution or any law, is actually more 
powerful in controlling our forms of elections than any power 
known to and defined by law itself. 



\ 



Like every thing else founded upon a false principle, its evil 
effects grow steadily, and gather strength from the very abuses 
which they create and perpetuate. The consequences are not 
simply a loss to the public from the presence of inefficient ser- 
vants, but the utter destruction of those personal virtues of self- 
respect, integrity, and conscientiousness which places every public 
interest in jeopardy. Original appointment to office no longer de- 
pends on character, capability, or presumed or proven fitness ; nor 
does the tenure depend upon fidelity and capacity; but unhesitat- 
ing service as a political and personal partisan, to whom scruple 
of any kind will be only an incumbrance, has become the most 
reliable groundwork for success in procuring or retaining public 
office. Thus, gradually, an army of mercenaries has been organ- 
ized, who are strong enough to control conventions and nominating 
assemblies, set at defiance public opinion, and laugh to scorn pub- 
lic conscience. 

The effect of such a system upon our elections is demoralizing 
and degrading in the extreme, as it proceeds upon the doctrine 
that the official positions of the government are the spoils of party 
conquests. The incumbents find the means of support for them- 
selves and their families placed in jeopardy on the recurrence of 
each election. 

"You take my life, when you do take the means whereby I 
live ; " and so believing, they fight as for their lives, and go through 
periodical seasons of 'an^^iety and distress, demoralizing, disastrous, 
and distracting in the effects upon them and upon the performance 
of their duty. 

Time and energy which should be devoted to the public are 
given to party ends, and the public money paid to them for public 
service is extorted from them by the party tax-gatherer, who spares 
neither age, nor sex, nor station ; but bleeds all, from the Cabinet 
Minister to the errand boy and the woman who scrubs the steps. 
Opposed to this array we see a far more numerous but less disci- 
plined and organized body of hungry seekers for office, savage with 
delay and disappointment, and furious for success. In such a 
contest the natural excitements of political passions and clash of 
opinions are heated almost to frenzy, and all restraints of morality, 
honor, and legality are consumed and destroyed in the political 
furnace. 



/ 



From such scenes and controversies men of dignity, refinement, 
and self-respect naturally shrink, and a measurable excuse is thus 
furnished for the non-performance of political duties, of which 
we see so many of those whose criticisms are so fluent and un- 
sparing are quick to avail themselves ; and places that should be 
filled by men possessing qualities that win and deserve private 
and public confidence, are filled by adroit, scheming, unblushing 
manipulators, who scoff at personal dignity and self-respect, and 
avow themselves " practical politicians." These men deride the 
idea of conscience in politics and scout every suggestion of puri- 
fication and reform. The impressive admonitions of Washington, 
repeated and renewed by Webster, fall upon unheeding ears ; for 
what are the character and lives of such men as Washington and 
Webster but a standing rebuke to the class of men elevated to 
control by the system of official spoils ? 

By the law of its being, each member of the " political ma- 
chine " is also its slave, whether he be its so-called " boss " and 
leader or one of its humbler members. Personal independence, 
individual conscience, fidelity to honest conviction weigh nothing 
and can avail nothing to the man enlisted in the spoils system of 
politics. The e^'-ils are progressing, and each day public com- 
prehension of the system and its results is increasing as its dan- 
gers are unfolded. 

One of these evils is the exclusion of men of self-respect and 
independence of character from the public counsels and from 
public service, by which the prime object of our system of free 
choice of their representatives by the people, is substantially de- 
feated. The power that defeats is unknown to law, and, there- 
fore, is uncontrolled by law. These dangers are fortunately be- 
ginning to attract public attention, and are well calculated to 
excite public alarm. In a less degree they existed in Mr. 
Webster's day, and in 1832 he called public attention to them in 
a speech before the convention at Worcester : 

" Mr. President — As far as I know, there is no civilized country 
on earth in which, on a change of rulers, there is such an 
inquisition for spoil as we have witnessed in this free republic. 
The inaugural address of 1829 spoke of a searching operation of 
government. The most searching operation, sir, of the present 
administration has been its search for office and place. Whea 



sir, did any English Minister, Whig or Tory, ever make such an 
inquest. When did he ever go down to low-water mark to make 
an ousting of tide-waiters ? When did he ever take away the 
daily bread of weighers and gaugers and measurers ? When did 
he ever go into the villages to disturb the little post-offices, the 
mail contracts, and every thing else in the remotest degree con- 
nected with government ? Sir, a British Minister who should do 
this and should afterward show his head in a British House of 
Commons would be received by a universal hiss. I have but 
little to say of the selections made to fill vacancies thus created. 
It is true, however, and it is a natural consequence of the system 
which has been acted on, that within the last three years more 
nominations have been rejected on the ground of unfitness than in 
all the preceding forty years of the government. And those 
nominations, you know, sir, could not have been rejected but by 
votes of the President's own friends. The cases were too strong 
to be resisted. Even party attachment could not stand them. 
In some not a third of the Senate, in others not ten votes, and in 
others not a single vote could be obtained ; and this for no par- 
ticular reason known only to the Senate, but on general grounds 
of the want of character and qualifications ; on grounds known to 
everybody else as well as to the Senate. All this, sir, is perfectly 
natural and consistent. The same party selfishness which drives 
good men out of office will push bad men in. Political proscrip- 
tion leads necessarily to the filling of offices with incompetent per- 
sons, and to a consequent mal-execution of official duties. And 
in my opinion, sir, this principle of claiming monopoly of office by 
the right of conquest^ unless the public shall effectually rebuke and 
restrain it, will effectually change the character of our govern- 
ment. It elevates party above country ; it forgets the common 
weal in the pursuit of personal emolument ; it tends to form, it 
does form, we see that it has formed, a political combination,, 
united by no common principles or opinions among its members, 
either upon the powers of the government or the true policy of 
the country, but held together simply as an association, under the 
charm of a popular head, seeking to maintain possession of the 
government by a vigorous exercise of its patronage^ and for this 
purpose agitating and alarming and distressing social life by the 
exercise of a tyrannical party proscription. Sir, if this course of 



5 

things cannot be checked, good men will grow tired of the exer- 
cise of political privileges. They will see that such elections are 
but a mere selfish contest for office, and they will abandon the 
government to the scramble of the bold, the daring, and the des- 
perate." 

Three years subsequently he denounced the spoils system in 
the Senate, and in discussing the appointing and removing power 
of the President, said : 

" The unlimited power to grant office and to take it away 
gives a command over the hopes and fears of a vast multitude of 
men. It is generally true that he who controls another man's 
means of living controls his will. Where there are favors to be 
granted there are usually enough to solicit for them ; and when 
favors once granted may be withdrawn at pleasure, there is ordi- 
narily little security for personal independence of character. The 
power of giving office thus affects the fears of all who are in and 
the hopes of all who are out. Those who are out endeavor to 
distinguish themselves by active political friendship, by warm 
personal devotion, by clamorous support of men in whose hands 
is the power of reward ; while those who are in ordinarily take 
care that others shall not surpass them in such qualities or 
such conduct as are most likely to secure favor. They re- 
solve not to be oAitdone in any of the works of partisanship. 
The consequence of all this is obvious. A competition ensues, 
not of patriotic labors, not of rough and severe toils for the 
public good, not of manliness, independence, and public spirit ; 
but of complacence, of indiscriminate support of Executive meas- 
ures, of pliant subserviency and gross adulation. All throng and 
rush together to the altar of man-worship, and there they offer 
sacrifices and pour out libations, till the thick fumes of their 
incense turn their own heads, and turn, also, the head of him who 
is the object of their idolatry." 

And in the course of the same speech he placed the question of 
Civil Service on its true grounds, when he affirmed that the civil 
officers of the government should not be the mere instrument of 
the administration, any "more than the officers of the military and 
naval branches, nor in the civil more than in the military and 
naval service should the offices be converted into mere rewards 
for party services. This proposition should, of course, be stated 



with important qualifications, so as to permit a change in the gov- 
ernment policy to be executed by officials whose sentiments were in 
accord with the reforms proposed — not as rewards or punishments 
for indi'/idual opinions, but as agencies to execute well-settled 
public opinion. The underlying theory of our government, that 
the will of the majority, legally expressed, shall be represented 
and shall control in the administration of public affairs, should 
not suffer obstruction from the opinions of any set of office- 
holders. The agent must follow the principal, and obstruc- 
tion to the expressed will of the majority would be just cause for 
the substitution of other agents to secure its execution. 

Said Mr. Webster in February, 1835 : 

*' It is necessary to bring back public officers to the conviction 
that they belong to the country, and not to any administration, or 
to any one man. The army is the army of the country ; the 
navy is the navy of the country ; neither of them is either the 
mere instrument of the administration for the time being, or 
of him who is at the head of it. The Post-Office, the Land- 
Office, the Custom-House, are in like manner institutions of the 
country, established for the good of the people ; and it may well 
alarm the lovers of free institutions, when all the offices in these 
several departments, are spoken of in high places as being 
' spoils of victory,* to be enjoyed by those who are successful in 
contest, in which they profess this grasping of the spoils to have 
been the object of their efforts." 

The great mass of official duties under our system are simply 
ministerial, the performance of which is no more affected by a 
man's political opinion than by his religious tenets. The judicial 
powers of the Constitution are expressly vested during the good 
behavior of the judges, whose pecuniary independence of popular 
will is additionally secured, a his would leave, therefore, a com- 
paratively small number of those leading and controlling offices, 
in which the political opinions of the incumbent should accord 
with the policy of the Executive, in favor of which public opinion 
had been expressed, and whose removal could justly take place 
on such grounds. 

In 1 84 1, when Mr. Webster first filled the office of Secretary of 
State, he had occasion to appoint a commission to inquire into 
the condition of certain public buildings then in the course of 



erection, and he issued instructions showing that he proposed to 
carry into practice the methods which he had recommended to an 
opposing administration. Said he : 

" You will inquire into no man's political opinions or preferences ; 
but if it be alleged that any person having power, either in em- 
ploying or dismissing laborers with any reference to the political 
opinions of those who may have been employed or dismissed, or 
for any political or party object whatever, or in any other way has 
violated his duty for party or electioneering purposes ^ you will inquire 
into the truth of such accusation and make report to me." 

To such principles of administration must the American people 
return if they hope to see such men as Webster in the public service. 
Such a character as his, and a man holding such views, would create 
consternation nowaday in a convention composed of the spoilsmen 
of politics. 

The evil is deeply seated and difficult of extirpation. Its fatal 
consequences I do not believe are overestimated or overstated ; 
and speaking, not without practical knowledge of its effect upon 
the whole framework of our government in all of its three great 
departments, I aver my belief that unless an end shall soon be put 
to a system under which at every election the offices of the country 
are, to use the words of Webster, " claimed by the right of party 
conquest," and have that claim allowed, we shall lose even our 
form of government, of which, long before, the substance will 
have disappeared. 

Statesmanship is impossible with men whose only thought and 
occupation is official brokerage, and who administer the powers 
of official patronage not by the measure of the applicant's charac- 
ter, ability, or fitness to perform the duties of the place, but 
by his servility and unscrupulous devotion to the objects of the 
political conspiracy into which he has been admitted. 

" Never forget," wrote Macaulay to his constituents when leaving 
for India," that the worst and most degrading species of corruption 
is the corruption which operates not by hopes but by fears." And 
once in office under the spoils system the trembling possessor is 
induced to commit any act of unmanly servility in the fear that be 
will be dismissed. And for the same reasons he does not venture to 
disclose abuses going on around him, when to do so would subject 
him to certain and instant dismissal " for the good of the party." 



8 

The operation of such exciting hopes and fears upon the 
unprincipled and morbid has had lately a fearful illustration, 
at which the nation still shudders ; but^ who shall say that the. 
utter demoralization and destruction of the better nature of men 
by politics under the spoils system, did not find a natural outcome 
in the murder — under a confusion of hope and revenge concern- 
ing office — of a blameless and patriotic President ? 

Sentences to beggary and distress, to which death would be 
almost a relief, have been not infrequent, under the form of dis- 
missal from minor offices, for no other cause than to carry out the 
system that converts public trusts of power into the spoils of party 
conquest. 



PRESIDENl 
GEORGE WILLIAM 



LIBRARY OF CONGRESS 



012 183 738 9 O 



VICE-PRESIDENTS. 
BENJ. H. BRISTOW, GEO. B. MCCLELLAN, 

HOWARD POTTER, JOHN JAY, 

ROSWELL D. HITCHCOCK, ROBERT B. MINTURN, 

OSWALD OTTENDORFER, GEO. B. BUTLER. 

TREASURER. 

JOHN C. ENO. 
SECRE TARY A SSI STAN T SECRE TAR Y. 

WILLIAM POTTS. WILLARD BROWN. 

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE. 
EVERETT P. WHEELER, Chairman. 
IRA BURSLEY, GEO. HAVEN PUTNAM, 

SILAS W. BURT, WM. GARY SANGER, 

EDWARD GARY, . ALBERT G. BROWNE, JR., 

CHARLES COLLINS, ORLANDO B. POTTER, 

DORMAN B. EATON, WM. H. THOMSON, 

ELIAL F. HALL, F. K. PENDLETON, 

FREDERICK W. WHITRIDGE. 

PUBLICATION COMMITTEE. 
E. L. GODKIN, A. R. MACDONOUGH, 

G. W. CURTIS, HORACE WHITE, 

HERBERT H. DRAKE. 

COMMITTEE ON LEGISLA TION. 
DORMAN B. EATON, EVERETT P. WHEELER, 

CARL SCHURZ, ORLANDO B. POTTER, 

F. L. STETSON. 

AUDITING COMMITTEE. 
ELIAL F. HALL, CHARLES COLLINS. 

COMMITTEE ON FINANCE. 
IRA BURSLEY, WILLIAM GREENOUGH, 

JNO. C. ENO, WILLARD BROWN. 

COMMITTEE ON AFFILIATED SOCIETIES. 
E. B. MERRILL, VERNON M. DAVIS.